GDF Suez still eyes Bulgaria nuclear power project

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

SOFIA, Nov 18 (Reuters) - French power giant GDF Suez said on Tuesday it would decide whether to share a stake in a Bulgarian nuclear project with RWE after examining a deal agreed between the German utility and Sofia.

The Bulgarian government last month chose RWE to become a strategic partner for a 49 percent stake in the planned Belene plant and gave the option to split the stake with the second-listed bidder, Belgian Electrabel, owned by GDF Suez.

"We remain interested in principle," Paul Rorive, group senior vice-president nuclear activities at GDF Suez, told Reuters on the sidelines of a nuclear conference in Sofia.

"We do not know for the moment which are the conditions accepted by RWE for the binding bid," he said. "The government has said 'you can take part in the project but you cannot change the conditions' ... so we have to examine the situation."

Rorive said his company will study the framework agreement between RWE and Bulgaria's state power utility NEK, which has a 51 percent stake in the Belene project, in the coming weeks.

GDF Suez, Europe's largest utility by sales, is interested in the Belene project because it will give it an opportunity to export electricity in southeastern Europe, he said.

Bulgaria is building the 4 billion euros ($5.05 billion) 2,000 megawatt plant to restore its position as a major power exporter in the region and meet European Union targets to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Proponents say nuclear energy is part of the solution to climate change as it emits almost no greenhouse gases.

Bulgaria and RWE are yet to sign a final deal, postponed by the German power giant mainly due to protests from green party politicians and activists in Germany.

Industry insiders say RWE may delay its decision until it receives more evidence about the safety plans for Belene, in an effort to defuse the protests.

Hartmut Pamme, vice president nuclear power plants at RWE Power, told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference that his company was negotiating the Belene deal with the government.

"We are just preparing a kind of a project-development contract and we are just negotiating so I cannot name a fixed date (for signing a deal)," he said.

Bulgaria's Deputy Energy Minister Yavor Kuyumdzhiev said earlier this month Sofia would wait for RWE's supervisory board approval of the deal until the spring of 2009, when construction of the Belene plant should start.

Sources familiar with the project have said the global financial crisis and tighter liquidity have made raising funding extremely difficult and is likely to delay the plant's start date beyond the planned 2013-2014.

But Pamme said he did not see "a huge impact" on the Belene project and that RWE and the government would find solutions.

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